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Picture of Pick Up Sticks...and Make a Twig Trellis
Gardeners need all the support they can get. There never seems to be enough time, after all, between spring's first green shoots and summer's skyward-climbing stems bent under the weight of heavy-headed peonies, ripe tomatoes, and plump pea pods. As any green thumb knows, many tall ornamentals and climbing edibles need something to lean on to keep them ­upright so that they're not rotting in moist soil.

MORE: Build a Potted Trellis With Branches

Ever since colonial-era homesteaders wove wattle garden structures from unbranched shoots of willow or hazel and set their peas to clamber over rows of tiny-twigged birch limbs, countless generations have used sticks to prop up their plants. Today, homeowners who want to combine beauty and ­utility can do the same. "Metal stakes and hoops may be practical," says Connecticut gardener Thyrza Whittemore, "but ­aesthetics are important, even in the vegetable garden." So she reaches for branches pruned in early spring—close at hand, easy to fashion to the right size, biodegradable, and free—to bring order to her beds. Read on to learn how she does it.
 
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Step 1: Get prepped

Picture of Get prepped
Build a diamond-patterned twig trellis for climbers Collect fresh, straight hardwood cuttings about 1/2-inch in diameter. Flexible apple shoots are easiest to work with, but shrub willow or dogwood, maple, or sassafras sapling twigs can be used, or improvise with bamboo stakes from the garden center. For this 3-foot-high, 10-foot-long trellis, Thyrza used 60 sticks, 3 to 4 feet long, plus three thicker ones, 4 to 5 feet long (rebar or garden stakes can sub for these if need be).
MORE: Best Hand Pruners

Step 2: Lay out the framework

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Sort sticks by length; use the longest ones first. Cut lightweight twine into a bunch of 5- to 6-inch lengths and set aside. Push support sticks straight into the ground, 6 inches deep, at each end of the trellis and in the middle. Fasten twine to the supports at either end, just above the ground, as a guide for keeping a straight line. Then cut measuring sticks, one 5 inches for spacing, one 3 feet as a height check.
MORE: See a special homeowner tip for this project at Thisoldhouse.com

Step 3: Set the first diagonals

Picture of Set the first diagonals
Center the 5-inch spacing guide on the middle support stick at its base. At each end of the guide, insert a stick diagonally into the ground at about a 60-degree angle, going about 3 inches deep. Keep the diagonals parallel to each other. Then, at the base of the first sticks, insert diagonals in the opposite direction, always crossing in front of the support stick.
MORE: Climbing and Rambling Roses

Step 4: Weave in more sticks, tie them where they cross

Picture of Weave in more sticks, tie them where they cross
Alternating sides and using the 5-inch spacer, add three more diagonals going in the first direction, then three in the other direction. Weave them in and out of each other at every other intersection. Tie crossing sticks together at the bottom, middle, and top of the trellis. Keep working from the center out, adding weaving, and tying sticks. Finish by tying crossing sticks at both ends of the structure.
MORE: Versatile Vines, Perfect Plants for Trellises

Step 5: Trim the ends

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Stand back and take a good look at the trellis. Then adjust sticks and retie them as needed. For a neat finish, trim the twigs along the top of the trellis, using the 3-foot stick as a height guide, then clean up sticks at both ends for a clean line.
MORE: Choosing and Using Pruners and Loppers

Step 6: Plant peas or other vining plants, and watch them climb

Picture of Plant peas or other vining plants, and watch them climb
Thyrza plants shelling peas, snow peas, and sugar snaps along the length of the trellis. As the pea vines scramble up, wrapping tendrils around the twigs, they get optimum air circulation and sun exposure. Best of all, they're easy to pick.
MORE: Our Favorite Climbing Plants

Step 7: Beef up twig supports for peonies

Picture of Beef up twig supports for peonies
Rather than buy clunky peony hoops or ugly tomato cages, Thyrza Whittemore reinforces her twig garden structures with plastic-coated metal garden stakes, spray-painted brown (rusted rebar can also be used), for plants that need heavy lifting.

MORE: Growing Perfect Tomatoes

To keep the nodding heads of her 36- to 40-inch-tall 'Festia Maxima' peonies upright (inset, below), Thyrza surrounds their bed with 3-foot metal stakes, driving them into the ground about 2 feet apart when the plants are 1 foot tall. Then she uses the stakes to secure twine that she runs in a grid through the bed, just below the flower heads, hiding it in the foliage; she adds another grid when the plants are 2 feet tall. "Take into account the height of your peonies so that the stakes don't stick up above their heads like they're in a corral," she says. Apple-twig X's tied to the outside of the stakes put a pretty face on the grid.

Step 8: Reinforce framework for tomatoes

Picture of Reinforce framework for tomatoes
To give her tomatoes a sturdy framework, Thyrza builds them a four-legged tower (bottom). First, she drives 6-foot metal stakes into the ground in a 2½-foot-sided square. Then she ties straight apple cuttings in big X's to the outside of the stakes and tops the tower with crossed arches made of bent twigs tied to the opposing stakes. Tomatoes ripen within easy reach.
More: Grow Perfect Tomatoes

Step 9: Don't stop now! You're on a roll! Pick up another project at thisoldhouse.com

Picture of Don't stop now! You're on a roll! Pick up another project at thisoldhouse.com
This Old House (author) 5 years ago
Thanks to all for the feedback! Stay tuned for more!
bruc33ef5 years ago
 Seek and ye shall find -- just what I was looking for and VERY well done.  Five Stars from me.  Excellent, and great links, too.


This Old House (author)  bruc33ef5 years ago
So glad you liked it! If you complete the project, make sure you send us pictures:) Send them to online_editor@thisoldhouse.com
Kiteman5 years ago
All rights reserved, external links on every step, and step nine nothing but external links...

It looks like spam to me.




This Old House (author)  Kiteman5 years ago
Still playing with the site a bit, trying to get a sense of what users prefer. Will tone it down on the relateds in coming ibles. Thanks!
Jayefuu5 years ago
They look good! Is there not risk of them sprouting?
This is really amazing that it is coming at this moment. I recently went to Williamsburg where there they have done the colonial weave that you were just talking about.

Excellent Instructable and thank you!